Stephen King’s The Institute, and the best horror story ever written, IMO. (It’s actually a tie between 2 stories … neither of them by Mr. King.)

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hollis517

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Mar 16, 2020
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I kindled the free sample of The Institute after checking out the audiobook sample. The audiobook narrator didn’t appeal to me so I read the Kindle sample. Mr. King is very observant — I spent my early years in NY/NJ but moved Down South in 1976, and he certainly did his homework. As always, he writes beautifully.

But then the Fantasy showed up. I am not a fan of Fantasy. Not usually, id est. There are exceptions, The Dead Zone and Firestarter. I tolerate it in the other of his writings that I’ve read simply because he’s such a good storyteller. I’m also partial to sardonic humor, and Mr. King provides plenty of it.

But when it comes to true, honest-to-Ed-Gein horror, there are two stories that never fail to overwhelm me, every time I read them:

(1) It’s A Good Life (Jerome Bixby, 1953). Yeah, the Twilight Zone adaptation is fine, but it doesn’t even begin to essentialize the utter horror in which the surviving citizens of Peaksville, Ohio must live their every waking moment. Anthony Fremont is only three, but I don’t believe that any of Stephen King’s monsters (including our government) would be anything other than child’s play for him. After all, almost immediately after he exited the birth canal he killed the obstetrician (who lived only long enough to scream, drop him, and try to kill the newborn) and then did what he did to the town. The events of the story take place on Dan Hollis’s birthday. Anthony supplies television.

(2) The Words of Guru (Cyril M. Kornbluth, 1941). I doubt that anyone has ever read anything like this very very short story. The narrator is Peter; it is his story to tell. The writing is positively lyrical in spots, matter-of-fact in others. The last line may stay with you forever, as it has with me. Cyril Kornbluth was 16 when he wrote it, 17 when it was published. He wrote many classic SF novelettes and novels, including The Space Merchants (with Frederik Pohl), The Little Black Bag, andThe Marching Morons (which many people, myself included, believe that Mike Judge MUST HAVE read before blessing us with Idiocracy.)

NOTE: I pronounce it Gurú, with the accent on the second syllable. It just sounds right.
 

Rrty

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Jun 4, 2007
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You make me want to read those stories right now. I had no idea that Twilight Zone episode was an adaptation. Could have sworn it was an original Matheson or Beaumont, but I guess it isn't (not an expert on the show, don't want to imply I am).

Is "The Little Black Bag" story you mention by any chance a Night Gallery episode as well?
 

hollis517

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Mar 16, 2020
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You make me want to read those stories right now. I had no idea that Twilight Zone episode was an adaptation. Could have sworn it was an original Matheson or Beaumont, but I guess it isn't (not an expert on the show, don't want to imply I am).

Is "The Little Black Bag" story you mention by any chance a Night Gallery episode as well?
I know one of those shows attempted it … with Burgess Meredith; it was Night Gallery, S1E2. But the Kornbluth story is rich, with the crucial character of the avaricious Angie excised as neatly as though with a scalpel from that wonderful bag.

The Little Black Bag is a prequel to The Marching Morons. Be warned: Kornbluth is not at all kind to stupid people. He cuts them no slack. Mike Judge, OTOH, treats them with fondness for their foibles.

Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth (2007) is that rare find: a superior Spec-Fic film completed literally on Bixby’s deathbed. There is absolutely no CGI! The same subject matter earned SFWA Grand Master Clifford D. Simak the 1980 Nebula and the 1981 Hugo and Locus awards for Best Short Story for Grotto of the Dancing Deer (1980), but IMO Bixby’s The Man From Earth is a superior presentation.

That’s saying a lot for me, because Mr. Simak is my favorite Spec-Fic writer. The Big Front Yard (1958) was my introduction to Speculative Fiction when I read it ~40 years ago. I couldn’t believe that there were such stories out there, that focused on ideas instead of the typical Star-Wars-like ”Cowboys and Indians in Space” subjects. It not only won the 1959 Hugo for Best Novelette, it is considered one of the best Spec-Fic stories ever. I wrote Mr. Simak on 8 Dec 1985 and told him what that story meant to me; he wrote me back on 28 Feb 1986 and said many incredibly nice things about my letter, the most intense comment being this: ”of all the comments that have been made of it, all the words that have been written of it by critics and science fiction historians, you are the first and only one who has put an unerring finger on what I tried so hard to say” (Simak, 1986).

There’s also a profound reflection on the nature of humanity, Desertion, one of the stories that make up his award-winning novel, City. Other favorites of mine include Immigrant, New Folks’ Home, Drop Dead, and Skirmish. Incidentally, Mr. Simak is known as the Pastoral SF writer.

Failed movie adaptations of awesome Golden Age Spec-Fic include Grand Tour (starring Jeff Daniels), based on the classic Vintage Season by the legendary husband-and-wife writing team of Henry Kuttner and Catherine Lucille (better known as C.L.) Moore. They also wrote Mimsy Were the Borogoves, which became The Last Mimzy, losing ~99% of its power and eloquence. Dead writers don’t get to control their films as well as Mr. King does. Misery and Christine were both very well done, even with the Gruesome Factor dialed way down. So was the 1994 tele-series, The Stand (I would’ve liked way more gruesome in the initial plague part).

Please forgive me for going on and on. The Golden Age (1930s-1960s, with outliers) is my area of specialty and I love turning people on to its now buried treasure. There’s plenty more, if you’re interested.
 
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Dana Jean

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Apr 11, 2006
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I know one of those shows attempted it … with Burgess Meredith; it was Night Gallery, S1E2. But the Kornbluth story is rich, with the crucial character of the avaricious Angie excised as neatly as though with a scalpel from that wonderful bag.

The Little Black Bag is a prequel to The Marching Morons. Be warned: Kornbluth is not at all kind to stupid people. He cuts them no slack. Mike Judge, OTOH, treats them with fondness for their foibles.

Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth (2007) is that rare find: a superior Spec-Fic film completed literally on Bixby’s deathbed. There is absolutely no CGI! The same subject matter earned SFWA Grand Master Clifford D. Simak the 1980 Nebula and the 1981 Hugo and Locus awards for Best Short Story for Grotto of the Dancing Deer (1980), but IMO Bixby’s The Man From Earth is a superior presentation.

That’s saying a lot for me, because Mr. Simak is my favorite Spec-Fic writer. The Big Front Yard (1958) was my introduction to Speculative Fiction when I read it ~40 years ago. I couldn’t believe that there were such stories out there, that focused on ideas instead of the typical Star-Wars-like ”Cowboys and Indians in Space” subjects. It not only won the 1959 Hugo for Best Novelette, it is considered one of the best Spec-Fic stories ever. I wrote Mr. Simak on 8 Dec 1985 and told him what that story meant to me; he wrote me back on 28 Feb 1986 and said many incredibly nice things about my letter, the most intense comment being this: ”of all the comments that have been made of it, all the words that have been written of it by critics and science fiction historians, you are the first and only one who has put an unerring finger on what I tried so hard to say” (Simak, 1986).

There’s also a profound reflection on the nature of humanity, Desertion, one of the stories that make up his award-winning novel, City. Other favorites of mine include Immigrant, New Folks’ Home, Drop Dead, and Skirmish. Incidentally, Mr. Simak is known as the Pastoral SF writer.

Failed movie adaptations of awesome Golden Age Spec-Fic include Grand Tour (starring Jeff Daniels), based on the classic Vintage Season by the legendary husband-and-wife writing team of Henry Kuttner and Catherine Lucille (better known as C.L.) Moore. They also wrote Mimsy Were the Borogoves, which became The Last Mimzy, losing ~99% of its power and eloquence. Dead writers don’t get to control their films as well as Mr. King does. Misery and Christine were both very well done, even with the Gruesome Factor dialed way down. So was the 1994 tele-series, The Stand (I would’ve liked way more gruesome in the initial plague part).

Please forgive me for going on and on. The Golden Age (1930s-1960s, with outliers) is my area of specialty and I love turning people on to its now buried treasure. There’s plenty more, if you’re interested.
That was quite a compliment Mr. Simak gave you.

You definitely speak with passion, good subject matter to be so knowledgeable about!
 

hollis517

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Mar 16, 2020
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That was quite a compliment Mr. Simak gave you.

You definitely speak with passion, good subject matter to be so knowledgeable about!
Thank you. Yes, Mr. Simak’s letter is the most involved letter I’ve ever received, by which I mean he fully understood and agreed with everything I was saying. I have it still: 3 handwritten pages crammed full of his earnest thoughts, in his spidery script that no one born in this century is even taught to write or read anymore. It hasn’t aged at all, still as crisp and clean as when I first read it 34 years ago. (That’s remarkable for me; I usually lose or destroy every material object I’ve ever possessed. Although i’d like to think I’m getting better.)

Idk what happened to the cute haiku that Sissy Spacek wrote me in 1976, around the time she filmed Carrie and before its release brought her fame; my initial letter to her was inspired by her performance in Badlands. Neither do I know where the Who the **** do you think you are? letter I got from Leon Uris is, but I’m fairly sure I still have it … Somewhere. That one is a very funny story, and I prevailed in the end in more than one way.

I used to have a website, PRESCIENCE, but I had to take it down because I didn’t have necessary permissions. I was clueless about that. It was a collection of 27 of some of my favorite Golden Age Speculative Fiction; when I designed and formatted it, reader accessibility was very much in mind.

The stories — everything from very short stories to novellas and even to 3 novels (including L. Sprague de Camp’s 1939 classic of the Alternate History SF subgenre, Lest Darkness Fall, which I took the liberty of dividing into 18 titled chapters, and which I KNOW that Mr. King has read — he mentioned it in 11-22-63) — are incredibly easy to read because I want people to read effortlessly, without distraction of any kind, whether apparent or subconscious, and to be as excited as I am by the ideas contained in those amazing stories.

I chose a single font: sans serif so no excessive squiggliness to distract the eye (kind of like this font); I set both line and paragraph spacing with greater-than-usual (but not so much that it itself becomes a distraction) distance so there would be no trouble at all to discern each line within a paragraph and no question as to differentiation between paragraphs, therefore providing that the flow of reading would be maximally effortless; I determined that a dark font on a white background is easiest for reading; and I chose not to justify spacing within paragraphs — because when paragraphs are justified, a distracting artificial spacing is created that the eye notices and wonders at, thus slowing the reader down. I incorporated other singular methods in my original PRESCIENCE website, but that one is lost to the ravages of destroyed/deleted memory, unfortunately.

Six of Mr. Simak’s stories (22.222…%) are in PRESCIENCE: The Big Front Yard, Desertion (from City — surely Mr. King has read that), Immigrant. New Folks’ Home, Drop Dead — IMO one of the most sardonic takes ever on immortality, and unquestionably an early depiction of Borg-like symbiosis, and Skirmish — certainly evocative of Mr. King’s choice of subject matter and even of his writing style.
 
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